‘Throwing Chicago and CPS a Lifeline': GOP Proposes State Takeover of Chicago Public Schools

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday proposed a bill that would allow the state of Illinois to take over Chicago Public Schools and permit the financially troubled school district to declare bankruptcy. 

Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin introduced the legislation Wednesday morning, saying they "are throwing Chicago and CPS a lifeline."

"We believe taxpayers and the school children of Illinois in Chicago deserve better," Durkin said. "The goal here is to provide the tools to right the ship. I want to reemphasize this, this is not a bailout. This is not a state bailout of CPS. Taxpayers statewide should not and will not be held responsible for the historically bad decisions made my Chicago politicians."

Governor Bruce Rauner backs the plan, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel is "100 percent opposed" to it.

“If the governor was serious about helping Chicago students, he should start by proposing -- and passing -- a budget that fully funds education and treats CPS students like every other child in the state,” Emanuel’s press secretary Kelley Quinn told NBC Chicago in an emailed statement.

A state takeover could mean a complete reorganization of CPS and could also result in an elected school board. The legislation would allow the State Board of Education to remove the current Emanuel-appointed Chicago Board of Education and establish an independent authority to run the district until it is financially stable. 

"CPS needs to be held accountable to the same standards as the rest of the schools in the state of Illinois," Durkin said. 

Another option gives CPS the opportunity to declare bankruptcy, which could void union contracts. 

"Any ongoing contract in existence at the time of filing could be subject to renegotiation," said Rep. Ron Sandack. "It doesn't mean it gets kicked to the curb, but it does mean it's subject to being reopened and rediscussed."

The Chicago Teachers Union opposes the proposed legislation, however. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey called it a "terrible idea that has virtually never worked."

Lawmakers stressed that the legislation won't guarantee success for CPS, but "is an opportunity to have some positives."

“The city doesn’t need a bailout, it needs a renaissance,” Radogno said.

Chicago Public Schools has been pleading with Rauner and Springfield to help fill a half a billion dollar hole in the district's budget. Without state funding CPS will be forced into thousands layoffs, which could come as early as next month.

"I believe we could avoid layoffs if we act quickly," Rauner said Wednesday. "I do not want to see a single teacher lose his or her job in Chicago."

He added that lawmakers "have a duty" to protect taxpayers and protect schoolchildren. 

"We need to take action, the mayor has failed on this, he’s failed on public safety, he’s failed on schools, he’s failed on jobs in the neighborhoods, he’s failed on taxes, he’s failed on reforms and I’m tired of it," he said. "I believe if we get involved, we can take on the teachers union in Chicago. The mayor is afraid of them, he's not taking them on. He caved in the teachers strike 4 1/2 years ago and he's giving them the message right now he's going to give them what they want and then say, 'State, pay for it.' We are not going to let that happen." 

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool lashed out at such comments, saying the governor is "defending a school funding system that is separate but unequal."

"Our children are facing systematic discrimination," Claypool said in a statement. "CPS represents 20 percent of state enrollment but gets just 15 percent of state funding, even though 86 percent of our children live in poverty. The missing 5 percent represents nearly $500 million, the exact amount of our budget gap. Our children's futures are just as important as those in the suburbs and downstate. But the state does not value them equally."

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